Missouri is in the dark ages when it comes to early voting. But a measure on the upcoming statewide ballot is not the path to enlightenment.
Constitutional Amendment 6 is a craven attempt by the state’s GOP-controlled General Assembly to make it very difficult for citizens to ever have a chance to vote at convenient hours and locations in the run-up to Election Day.
Voters should say NO on Nov. 4 and insist on a meaningful early voting proposal.
Most states, including Kansas, have passed laws making it possible for citizens to vote in the weeks leading to Election Day. Polling places are often open before and after business hours, and many states offer voting opportunities on weekends and through mail-in ballots.
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These are good ways to increase participation by making voting more convenient.
Some groups and lawmakers in Missouri have for years attempted to get an early voting bill through the legislature. This year, a citizen-driven ballot initiative gained steam. It would have required six weeks of early voting, including on weekends.
When it looked as though backers might obtain enough signatures to put their initiative on the ballot, Republican lawmakers came back with a miserly proposal intended to appear on the same ballot and confuse the citizenry.
In the end, the citizen-led initiative unfortunately fell short of the number of required signatures. GOP lawmakers went ahead with their proposed constitutional amendment anyway.
It would permit early voting in person or by mail for only six business days, ending on the Wednesday before the election. Polling places could not open on weekends. And voting would have to take place during regular business hours. So much for accommodating citizens who might get docked for missing work time to vote.
The amendment does nothing to encourage election authorities to offer early voting at convenient locations.
With Constitutional Amendment 6, Missouri would gain one of the most limited early voting laws in the nation. Most states allow at least two weeks, with voting opportunities on evenings and weekends.
All that is bad enough. But there’s more: Early voting wouldn’t take place at all unless the legislature and governor free up funding for it every year.
That’s a dubious proposition in chronically cash-strapped Missouri. And election authorities would be hard pressed to set up efficient early voting systems if they had to wait each year to learn whether it could even be done.
If this constitutional amendment passes, lawmakers will not be able to make adjustments by amending state statutes. The restrictions could only be lifted by amending the Constitution — again.
“Rather than providing for early voting, this places deep restrictions on the possibility of early voting,” said Denise Lieberman, a lawyer with the Advancement Project, which promotes access to voting as a civil right. “It was promulgated by legislators who are in fact opposed to early voting.”
Prominent in that group is Sen. Will Kraus, a Republican from Lee’s Summit. Kraus carried the bill in the Senate.
Besides its clumsy attempt at deception, Amendment 6 reveals the disdain that its backers have for citizens. What kind of legislature puts a measure on the ballot and then says it reserves the right to withhold the privilege — weak though it is — even if voters approve it?
Why, the Missouri legislature. With Amendment 6, it has set a new standard for contemptible governing. It is worth a trip to the polls just to show lawmakers they can’t get away with this dirty trick.